Seven Senate Races: The key to 2020

Dear friends, The Senate means more than ever, for many reasons:
1. A Republican Senate will block all or most of a Democratic president’s judicial nominees, including a new Supreme Court nomination if one becomes open.

2. If you think adding seats to the Court is appropriate after Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation, you need both Houses to do so.

3. A new Congress could moot the pending Supreme Court challenge to the Affordable Care Act by reviving the individual mandate tax, even as $1. But the Democrats need both Houses to do so. 

4. A new Congress could pass crucial voting rights legislation, federal protections of reproductive rights, and a badly needed economic recovery package. McConnell’s GOP Senate would block all of these efforts. 

5. If recounts prevent the Electoral College and the House from electing a new president, the new Senate could elect Pence Vice President, and it is plausible that he would become president until the lengthy legal disputes over the presidential vote would be resolved.

So here are the SEVEN Senate races most worth our attention and donations over the next week. Remember: these campaigns need donations immediately to buy advertising and get-out-the-vote/get-the-mailed-votes-right efforts immediately. (I think the Colorado race is a relatively safe pick-up for Hickenlooper over Gardner).

1. Maine: Sara Gideon (D) vs. Susan Collins (R). Top of the list because even though Biden is far ahead of Trump, Gideon is only a few points ahead. Collins has remarkably strong support in Maine as a perceived moderate over 24 years, and she may be able to use her opposition to Amy Coney Barrett to win back independents. She deserves to lose most for her Kavanaugh vote.538 gives Gideon just a 62% chance of winning. And the 2d Cong. district in Maine could be necessary for Biden, so double-whammy spending. Gideon is also an excellent candidate, potentially a future star in the party.

2. ArizonaMark Kelly (D) (astronaut husband of Gabby Giffords) vs. Martha McSally (R – MAGA Nut). 538 gives Kelly a 79% of winning, but this is still top-of-the-list because Arizona is one of two states most likely to give Biden 270 electoral votes. The other is Pennsylvania, likely to have long delays counting about three million absentee ballots. Money spent in Arizona is a double-whammy.

3. Iowa: Theresa Greenfield (D) vs. Joni Ernst (R) 538 currently has this race 50/50, and two high quality polls came out this week showing Greenfield pulling ahead by 2 points. Ernst is crazy MAGA. Greenfield is solid. And Iowa is increasingly competitve for Biden, too. Another dobule-whammy.

4. UPDATE: Michigan: Peters (D incumbent) over James (R). Surprisingly, the polls have gotten closer. It may be a couple of outlier polls, but I think James has raised a ton of money. And Peters needs to outraise James:

[UPDATE: Harrison raised a record $54M last quarter, more money than he can spent. It’s good news, but that’s why I’m downgrading South Carolina: Jaime Harrison (D) v. Lindsey Graham (R).I’m putting this high on the list because Harrison is so awesome (he is a dynamic Black man, and he is a good friend of some of my friends from Yale College), and Graham is such a coward. 538 puts Graham’s chances at 78%, but that’s a remarkably close race, and what a message it would send.

5. Montana: Steve Bullock (D) v. Steve Daines (R). A battle of the Steves is Even-Steven. Bullock ran for president. Montana has one Democratic Senator (Jon Tester). The NY Times “A+” poll showed a one-point race two weeks ago. 538 gives Bullock a 34% shot, but I think he’s got a much better shot than that, and money goes a long way in low-population state like Montana.

6. Georgia: Jon Ossoff (D) v. Perdue (R). Perdue has his own Covid-insider-trading scandal (similar to Sens. Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler) that should be getting more attention and advertising. 538 gives Ossoff a 26% chance of winning, but I think Georgia has an underrated chance of swinging blue now.

7. North Carolina: Cunningham (D) v. Tillis (R). This race had been steadily trending toward Cunningham. You may have heard about Cunningham’s stupid sexts. I’ve dropped him down the list here, even though North Carolina is a Biden/Senate double-whammy. I want to see more polling data to see if he is hurt by the texts. My guess is that the scandal has surely been drowned out by Trump and Tillis getting Covid, and other national insanity. But North Carolina also has a terrible absentee ballot system that is grossly discriminatory. Maybe that’s more reason to donate, but maybe other states are a better bet. UPDATE: Cunningham’s polling appears stable post-texting here, a significant 48%-42% lead by a very good pollster. Maybe such a solid lead that we should focus on other races anyway? 

More close races, and I think all are under-rated as pick-up chances:

Alaska (Al Gross, 17% chance)

Kansas (Barbara Bollier) (21% chance but recent polls are even!)

Alabama (Doug Jones)

Texas (MJ Hegar v. Cornyn, 13% chance) This would be a wonderful upset pick.

Author: Jed Shugerman

Legal historian at Fordham Law School, teaching Torts, Administrative Law, and Constitutional History. JD/PhD in History, Yale. Red Sox and Celtics fan, youth soccer coach. Author of "The People's Courts: Pursuing Judicial Independence in America" (2012) on the rise of judicial elections in America. I filed an amicus brief in the Emoluments litigation against Trump along with a great team of historians. I'm working on "The Rise of the Prosecutor Politicians," a history of prosecutors and political ambition (a cause of mass incarceration), and "The Imaginary Unitary Executive," on the myths and history of presidential power in America.

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